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ASK...THE QUESTION: How Does Plastic Man's Suit Work?

ASK...THE QUESTION: How Does Plastic Man's Suit Work?

By Alex Jaffe Wednesday, August 3rd, 2022

ASK...THE QUESTION is a recurring column where Alex Jaffe answers questions about the world of DC Super Heroes posed by fans like you. Is there something you've been wondering? All you have to do is ask...

It’s time once more to write for some of my favorite people—you, the readers. Hello! I’m Alex Jaffe, better known by the DC Community as HubCityQuestion (or, on occasion, “Mr. City.”) In this feature, I take the pressing questions that you (yes, you!) submit about the vast scope of the DC Universe and all its inhabitants and history, and do my level best to deliver the answers you crave. Let’s go get some!
 

Shut Up and Drive

Numbuh1Nerd asks:

Why is it that the emotional spectrum doesn’t account for happiness or sadness—two of the most basic emotions?

When Geoff Johns began his reconstructive work on the Green Lantern mythology, his most impactful creative decision was to reveal that the green energy of the Lantern Corps was just one part of a vast spectrum of light powers, each associated with channeling a different emotion. As green corresponded with pure will, red was rage, orange was avarice, yellow was fear, blue was hope, indigo was compassion, and violet was love.

A question about this I often hear is that in this “emotional spectrum,” how can you really call “will” an emotion? You don’t feel “will” in the same way you can feel angry or hopeful. Personally, I prefer to think of these seven not as emotions, per se, but motivations. Every Lantern Corps is driven by their own motivation, be that greed or love. And the Green Lanterns are the purest of them all, as their drive is determined through willpower itself. From that perspective, it would make sense that “happiness” and “sadness” don’t factor into the emotional spectrum, as those aren’t motivating factors—they’re emotions you feel as a result of something which has already occurred. The power of the emotional spectrum is an active power, which influences reality. Not the other way around.

I should note, however, that despair plays a significant role in Johns’ final Green Lantern story arc, “Wrath of the First Lantern.” There, we find the gray Volthoom channeling despair to drain Lanterns of all Corps of their respective drives, adding to his own great power. This suggests a role for despair as a negative force in the spectrum, draining emotional energy just as it tends to do in our own lives.

As for joy, it simply seems that as it stands right now, happiness doesn’t play a known role within the emotional spectrum. It is, perhaps, merely the ideal result of when one’s emotional drives are met.
 

All About Eel

Wrightline1.42741 asks:

Ever since his debut with Quality Comics, and right up to his present appearances in the DCU, Plastic Man has always had a costume that does exactly what he does. How does it do that, exactly? Considering his past criminal record (although I don’t remember him ever being tried and convicted of anything), how was he able to become an FBI agent? At the very least, you need a squeaky-clean background check for that. And when DC put him back in circulation, his world was always more Angel & The Ape and Inferior Five than Justice League, as I remember. So, when did he ‘officially’ merge with the more serious sided heroes of the DCU? I remember a Neal Adams cover for a Brave and the Bold team-up he had with Batman. Was that his first ‘crossover’ with a mainstream DC hero? Curious, as always, and thanks for your time!

There are a few versions of the origin of Plastic Man’s costume, and you’re welcome to accept whichever you prefer. According to his first appearance in 1941’s Police Comics #1, Plas simply suggests he’ll need a costume made out of rubber before setting off to fight crime. Whether he made this himself or picked it up through some unseen contact is left up to the reader’s imagination. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, we got a new Plastic Man origin story in a miniseries by Phil Foglio and Hilary Barta. There, we see that a pair of goggles and a circus singlet were among the effects doused by the same chemicals as Plastic Man himself, allowing them to adapt to him as he stretches and contorts himself. But despite those origins, there’s been a general idea within the zeitgeist that Plastic Man doesn’t actually wear a costume at all—his skin just does that. This explanation is acknowledged overtly in the Justice League Action animated series.

It’s true that Patrick “Eel” O’Brian’s criminal history would certainly present an obstacle to his FBI affiliation. That’s why, at first, he kept it a secret. In much the same way that Batman was deputized by the police in the Silver Age, Plastic Man was deputized by the President of the United States himself in Police Comics #18. And you don’t say no to FDR. But despite the President’s recommendation, Plastic Man’s superior officer Chief Banner discovered his criminal past in 1944’s Police Comics #26 but granted him a pardon provided he could meet his challenge of solving three major cases in a single day. Plastic Man pulled it off, and it was the last time his past as Eel O’Brian was mentioned at all in the Golden Age. That status quo persisted until the 2004 Kyle Baker Plastic Man series, where the FBI is once again apparently unaware of his criminal origin. Hijinks ensue from there when an old flame returns to his life as his new field partner Agent Morgan, seeking revenge for abandoning her.

As for your third question: your memory does not fail you. Plastic Man’s first technical DC appearance was in 1966’s House of Mystery #160, when Robby Reed dials “H” for Hero and channels Plas. Plastic Man makes a full funnybook appearance in 1967’s The Inferior Five #2, hobnobbing with that crowd to battle a parody of a Marvelous counterpart. Then, in issue #6 of Plastic Man’s first DC series, Plas battles The Mad Mod, but it’s a different guy than the classic Teen Titans villain. In issue #8, Plastic Man shares a humorous scene with the Doom Patrol’s Chief Niles Caulder, which makes sense considering Doom Patrol creator Arnold Drake was writing. His first serious DC crossover takes place just one month later in 1968’s The Brave and the Bold #76, cover indeed by Neal Adams, against a villain known as the Molder. It might explain why Batman and Plastic Man are so closely associated today, with Batman often taking personal responsibility for his criminal rehabilitation. Or, you know, it might be because every hero’s got to have something to do with Batman.
 

The Valiant Variant

RexRebel asks:

Is Superman: The Man of Steel by John Byrne the first comic with a variant cover? Also, assuming Superman was the first alien superhero, who was the second?

The Man of Steel #1 does hold the distinction of being the first comic with a variant cover, as we understand the term from a marketing perspective. But technically, very minor variants in comic book trade dress and quality were released through different channels long before then. In 1966, for instance, the Golden Record Company reprinted some key Marvel Comics issues with different promotional covers as part of a tie-in to their experimental record line of spoken dialogue meant to be listened to along with the issue itself. (Honestly, a pretty neat idea I wouldn’t mind seeing resurrected as a podcast today.)

Through the ‘70s, slight changes in cover dress were fairly common when reprinting and repricing issues for foreign markets. But as for completely original art with a “collect them all” motivation which defines variant covers as we know them today, Byrne’s Man of Steel was the first.

The second alien superhero after Superman was… This is a tough question, since I’d have to consider every comic book character ever created around the time…but I’m going to say Jane 6EM35, The Magician from Mars. Jane first appeared in Amazing-Man Comics #7 by Centaur Publications, an early comic publisher active from 1938-1942. She may even hold the distinction of being the first female superhero, although the complexities of her personal morality, like her penchant of stealing gold to fund children’s charities, may call that hero status into question.
 

That does it for this edition. But if I know myself well, I’m already starting to follow leads for the next batch of mysteries as you read this. You can make an appointment for your next case as simply as joining the DC Community and stopping by to ASK…THE QUESTION.
 

Got something that's keeping you up nights? If you have a question about the DC Universe that you'd love to get answered, you can head on over to the DC Community and ask it here.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.